We are equals

Inequality first posted 3 June 2019

It is just over 120 years since the birth of Jennie’s father and, fourteen months later my father was born as well.  All these years and I reflect on just two generations.

Scotland in the time of my father’s birth was a simple place.  Members of the family were rooted to their village. Life was cyclical. Season followed season and life was lived routinely. My uncle Fred spent 60 years working at the same address in Duns. My father was more restless, perhaps circumstances dictated his movements. He worked in the surrounding villages and trained as a gardener. 

It was in this occupation, when with some other young men from the village he migrated to Australia. (After WW1 Australia desperately wanted farm workers to replace the dead and injured. It offered work to the original £10 poms for work as agricultural labourers.)  ((Arthur Caldwell reintroduced the plan after WW11.)) And so Abraham found himself in inhospitable Deniliquin after he disembarked. 

Life there was to him so uncomfortable he headed back to Melbourne to be near his kinsmen. His employment at Rupertswood was followed by similar work for Dr Syme in Lilydale. (Syme of the family that started The Age.) Jennie’s father, at around the same year took a holiday to California. Travel allowed each to broaden their native view. 

Australia had by then a recognition that workers deserved a living wage and balance in the lives of employees. The 8 hour day (8 hours of work -8 hours of leisure -8 hours of sleep.) and the Sunshine Harvester case had established the principle people should not be exploited in the expense of their labour. These principles remained constant throughout my working life. However little by little those principle have been eroded since I retired.

As a young teacher I remember, when I was almost 30 I was paid almost half the salary of the Prime Minister. The wage was sufficient for most of my countrymen to afford a simple house. This memory is much like PM Howard spoke about as being the inspiration of Australians. (Perhaps there was not a universal aim to have a picket fence.) (Consider the pay discrepancy between a teacher the and the PM today.)

People worked and people were paid.  After the Korean War the demand for wool made Australia the richest country in the world. The super rich owned property. Worker pay increased as the wealth of the country grew. It was because the buyer of labour knew without that work his pay was also limited.

What has this to do with a holiday? You ask. Nothing and everything. 

Our holiday was funded by denying our children an inheritance. (Thank you – you marvellous people.) Perhaps this was selfish of us. Time, like many things in this story, will tell. I have come to a period in my life,  if compelled to think about it, makes me realise I know more names on graves than I know of living people. Many of the departed died far too early. Their lives were unfulfilled –  in the optimistic and idealised  way we imagined. Others occupy graves resting in well deserved peace after their long fruitful lives. May health for all defer the grim reaper’s call.

Our holiday was a celebration of our lives. August is the 55th anniversary of the beginning of our waltz through life. The music played. Sometimes I stood on toes instead of lifting my feet. The melody played on. A hop here and there to keep time. The waltz continued. Our lives developed a rhythm despite the busyness of daily living and this trip was a reward for the journey to date.

On this journey I became very aware in 2019 that for millions of people life is an unequal race. Life is complicated by a jump to the right. Change is not with tiny steps now. It is very definitely by jumps. Governments all over the world focus their work today on self interest. Rightful consensus has given way to horrid idealism. The elected kowtow to their supporters. In many nations what happens is dictated by the military. In other centres it is to favour one religion before others. To list governments which favour one group over another would take too long but the evidence is there for all to experience.

What is causing this crisis? Much of it was determined by the victors of past wars drawing new boundaries without consideration for the wants and needs of the inhabitants who they frequently evicted. Nearly all is ultimately the fault of the arms industry. Today wars are clinical. The victors need never see blood. The people displaced this way are seeking safety in any place they can find it. In doing so their arrival in places not expecting them is an unwanted trouble. We need to find a way to accommodate them. Move over. Give them space.

Former colonising countries are now experiencing waves of people from their former colonies. None of the land grabbing countries ever expected these changes as they exploited the colonies they ruled. Their natural wealth was their only concern.  Now they are experiencing change as the ruled exercise what they see as their right to settle with their colonisers. Choosing Britain as an example, John Cleese said today, “London was no longer for the English”. You surmise what he means, but different languages, different faces, does not take away the fact that at least some of it is because of colonialism –  the remainder is perhaps the EU.

Lives are disrupted in developing countries when their people are enticed to work in wealthy countries. This work is a form of slavery when to ensure they work hard, others hold their passports. The country is also depleted when the employer cares little for the condition of their foreign workers and treat them so badly.

Throughout the globe news is manipulated by those responsible for reporting it. Fear is the bread fed to readers. In doing so uncritical readers are exploited. It is so surprisingly easy most do not know they are being duped. They are duped into believing something good is in it for them. It transpires the benefit is only of good to the messenger. 

I haven’t time to write about religion but the once secular Turkey is being radicalised, as is India. By all accounts Greece is about to turn right. The Middle East is as well. The feudal lords ruling over their oil soaked lands want the people where their actions can be monitored.  In America we have copied all that is wrong with their society. Additionally, it must be said the influence of the Pentecostal Church preaching prosperity is harmful.  Many of the evangelist preachers are happy to take the last widow’s mite in the name of God only pausing when the givers are  destitute. It may not be the fault of All Pentecostals but it is the experience of those choosing to tell the BBC.  They report tragically about wealth flowing upwards to the preachers.

It turns out each crisis is man made.  The harm is palpable. It is real and it is in every corner of the globe. We have gone mad and in doing so the world has lost the rhythm and simplicity of our fathers’ day. Our country, and much of the world that we grew to appreciate, has altered the benefits of equality. The world itself is more selfish than in years past. It all comes down to acting inhumanely towards others. What comes next is unwritten. As my German friend Moritz, a former partner of McKinsey and Co says, “It is better to lift people up than pull them down.” You can work to bring back equality – if like me you value it. In today’s world I realise to do so will be like turning water into wine. Scrub that – too preachy!  It is like electing governments  of the people,  for the people, by the people once again.

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